Design and engineering firm Bigger Tuna turns people's plans into products.
Sometimes people come in with something sketched on a cocktail napkin. Other times, they walk back and forth by the small glass-encased office of Bigger Tuna three or four times before they'll tentatively knock and say, “I have an idea.”
Ideas are what Bigger Tuna is all about: taking ideas and making them into prototypes and actual products on the market.
The full-service design and engineering firm, based out of the Columbus Idea Foundry in Franklinton, is now in its fifth year of helping entrepreneurs navigate the tricky landscape of seeing an idea through to fruition. In 2012, the year of its founding, TechColumbus (now Rev1 Ventures) named Bigger Tuna one of Columbus' top five entrepreneurs.
“Bigger Tuna started out as, like Battelle: How do we solve technical problems through innovation and bring a variety of skills together under one roof with our core team here,” says Jeff Myers, a former Battelle engineer who founded Bigger Tuna. His title at the company is “commander.”
“What we try and focus on is taking … problems and ideas that solve those problems from someone's brain immediately to reality through the tools around us. Along the way (we) try to take out the risk by moving quickly from idea to prototype to iterating, that cycle.”
A person will come to Bigger Tuna with an idea. They'll meet with the company and talk it over and spend hours drawing sketches. That will evolve to CAD drawings and prototypes, assistance with patents, marketing, help with packaging and finding companies that can manufacture the product.
“That first meeting is what we call a brainstorm, kickoff meeting, and that's the brain dump where we get the client in the room and they interview us, but we also interview them. And we pull out those little bits of information that might not seem important to them, but when myself and these guys get into sketch mode all those little things come out, you know this wealth of information you get down on paper,” says Steve Sauer, Bigger Tuna's chief and industrial designer.
Bigger Tuna employees then use the resources found at the Idea Foundry—from vacuum molding machines and 3D printers to simple carpentry tools—to construct a prototype. If necessary, they bring in freelancers for specific expertise. Most clients are small businesses or startups that learn of the company through word of mouth.
“We work with our client again, the pros, the cons, the features they want, this is too big, too heavy, too soft, too loud, not the right size, then we iterate toward a feature list that the client prioritizes. It'll go from high to low,” Myers says. Among the products Bigger Tuna has helped to the market are the Power Squid, a flexible alternative to a power strip; the Birds of a Tether Cat Toy; and Rougaroo car-cleaning solution.
There are many others. Entrepreneur Bill Murray imagined a product that would eliminate a problem many skiers can identify with: having to take off ski gloves and fumble through a jacket pocket for lip balm. His invention is the Chaplicator, a contraption that houses lip balm and attaches magnetically to a ski helmet.
Murray, a Huron, Ohio, resident, sees the potential for Chaplicator being used elsewhere, like in cars. Bigger Tuna helped refine the design, helped find toolmaking and manufacturing companies, and designed the packaging.
“They really changed the design a lot, and they made it a lot better. You look at the evolution of my product, until I went to Bigger Tuna it was pretty boring looking and not interesting. They took it to the next level,” Murray says.
Bigger Tuna even helped organize an event at Snow Trails, the ski resort near Mansfield, where they promoted the Chaplicator.
One of the most common questions Bigger Tuna gets isn't about products at all, however. It's “What's up with the name?”
The answer lies in a love of football and an available URL for a company website.
“I really loved football and in the early '80s, the Giants, and their coach, Bill Parcells, was nicknamed the Big Tuna, and I was a big guy at the time,” Myers says.
But the Big Tuna name and URL already were taken by an Illinois web-design and marketing company.
“I'm even bigger than that so let's be Bigger Tuna,” Myers said.
And Bigger Tuna was born.
Kevin Kidder is a freelance writer.